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Social Connections and Their Power to Improve Your Mental Health

Bill HowattBill Howatt
Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity, Organizational Performance

This op-ed was originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 25, 2019.

On your train commute to work you open your book to a blank page and draw seven squares. You use the squares to break down how you typically spend each day of the week.

You find that a typical day starts 6 a.m. to help get the family moving and then you rush to catch the 7 a.m. train that gets you work by 8:15 a.m. You leave work at 5 p.m. getting home at 6:15 p.m. Once home, you change gears and focus on family needs until 9 p.m. Then you prepare for the next day, catch up with your partner, and wind down and are in bed at 11 p.m.. The weekend is for family activities, house chores, paying bills and, when you’re lucky, a date night if your family schedule allows.

You fill in your time squares because you’re wondering where your time is going. You feel a pang of regret and miss the social connection with your small, close group of friends. This loss of social connection is a void. You love your family and have no complaints about your life other than missing your close friends.

You find listing your daily activities frustrating because it highlights the degree of commitment you have to your family, your job, your role as a parent, and to taking care of your house. It highlights why you may not feel like you have time for your friends.

This micro skill reinforces the benefits of maintaining or creating new social connections that facilitate trusted friendships.


A balanced, positive social connection that evolves into a close friendship is a good thing.

Such connections begin through meeting like-minded people where there’s a strong alignment of interests, beliefs and values. A positive social connection promotes a caring and healthy two-way relationship where each person is committed to the other’s health and happiness. These kinds of relationships are good for our mental health and happiness.

Those who have healthy relationships with family, children, their partner, work colleagues and neighbours gain social connections and trusted friendships. In some cases, we may be happy with all our relationships and still miss having a close friend or small group of friends.

A close friend provides a social connection where there’s trust, no judgement and no expectation other than being deeply interested in your happiness and well-being.

Having one or two trusted friends with whom we regularly connect, talk with and share our life is beneficial. Why? Because close friends we deeply trust often can be brutally honest with us and help us see another perspective in a way that we may not allow a family member to do.

Often, when a trusted close friend speaks to us we’re more open to their feedback and recommendations than we may be with our partner or family.


Building social connections that develop into trusted friends or other kinds of relationships takes time and effort. But the rewards can be great. Getting caught in an automatic day-to-day routine can blind you to the possibility that despite being busy you can still keep up with close friends.

Time often is not the barrier; it’s awareness of priority and focus.

Once you become aware and believe that there’s a void in your social connections with your family or friends, the first thing to do is to make a commitment to close this void. It won’t close itself; it requires intention and action.


Re-engaging or creating social connections with the goal of having a few close, trusted friends begins with a commitment to spend some energy and time to make that happen.

Inventory – If there are close friends or family who have drifted away, ask yourself why. If there was no falling out, determine if you want to reconnect with this person. If you’ve just drifted, be clear of why. Many times, there’s no real barrier and the other person feels the same as you. Once you have listed the friends you’ve lost touch with, ask yourself what you miss the most about each person. Decide if you want to reconnect, and if you do, move on to the next step.

Intention – The focus here is to reach out to each person and be honest. Simply tell them you miss them, and you want to figure out a way to reconnect and to stay in touch regularly. If your list is empty, list your interests and passions, and determine where you’re most likely to meet people with a similar profile.

Initiate – Renewing or building new social connections takes creativity and planning. There are many ways to interact with one another, such as writing notes, texting, calling, emailing or using social networks such as Instagram or Facebook. Frequent communications can lead to quality communications. This keeps people we care about top of mind and encourages them to do the same. You know you have a strong social connection when you feel the other person puts in at least the same level of effort as you to stay in touch.

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